The Obscurer Awards 2007

by Quinn

Well, here we are in the third year for the awards they said, and hoped, would never last. But who are “they”? What is it with those shadowy “they” people that “they” feel “they” have the authority to foist “their” opinions upon “others”? If you ask “me”, “they” have a lot to answer for. But did “you” ask “me”? Who are “you” anyway? And who am “I” in the first place?

Oh let’s just get on with it.

  • Single – Muse/Supermassive Black Hole. My wife and I engage in an amusing dance (amusing for whom I wonder?) each time we get in the car. When it is my turn I find the stereo set to Radio 1 and change it over to Radio 5; when my wife gets in the car she changes it back to Radio 1. When we are both in the car Radio 5 usually wins, because I drive more often and am far less tolerant of others’ choices than is my wife. Occasionally, however, Radio 1 wins out, usually when I am too tired to care, or when my intolerance of Radio 1 is trumped by my intolerance of a specific Radio 5 presenter (let’s call him Nicky Campbell for the sake of argument). In the middle of last year, on those odd occasions when Radio 1 did survive past a few seconds I would usually hear Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole, and as such it was almost the permanent soundtrack to my Radio 1 listening. And it is a great song. I have always liked Muse, been impressed by the way each track manages to eek out some variety from the basic formula of fiddly guitar riffs and falsetto singing. This song though is a bit different; less serious than the norm, more playful, even slightly sensual, the lyrics on a more simple human level than the usual hogwash they churn out, with a low down and grinding guitar line. Always more a band to be admired than take to your heart, this song suggested a change was in the offing. In fact, the subsequent album proved largely to be business as usual. Can you really love a band with tracks entitled “Map Of The Problematique”, “Exo-Politics” and “Knights Of Cydonia”? I can’t. But I still like this song.
  • Album – Arctic Monkeys/Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not. This was going to be a tricky category. Razorlight’s eponymous album was listenable, Divine Comedy’s below-par, Thom Yorke’s was great at first but interest soon paled (definitely one you need to be in the mood for) and Badly Drawn Boy’s was a slow grower, but I’m still not wholly sold on it. Then I just thought I’d check when the Arctic Monkeys’ album was released, and when I saw the CD said © 2006 I realised we had a winner. The true test I think is that I am still whacking the CD onto my stereo or selecting the appropriate file on my MP3 player now, a year after it was released. I came late to the Monkeys; I don’t keep my finger on the musical pulse, as you can tell, and it was my Radio 1 listening wife who insisted I check them out because she was sure they were my kind of thing. She was right, again. I loved the singles, but wasn’t quite prepared for the whole album, wondering if it would all be much of a noisy, samey muchness. In the event there is a surprising subtlety and difference in the arrangements for what is to all intents a basic 4-piece band, but as I often find is the case it’s the lyrics that turn an artist from being great into fucking awesome. The subject matter of the songs on the album vary, but many are wistful and poetic paeans to late-teens nightlife, of sticky carpets and kebab splattered street, but containing a knowledgeable and knowing ambivalence. The lyrics at times may be reminiscent of Morrissey, but are unmistakably in Alex Turner’s own voice; and one it will be fascinating to see develop over time.
  • Book – Jung Chang & Jon Halliday/Mao: The Untold Story. God I’m rubbish at reading these days, as anyone who keeps tabs on the “Reading” section on my sidebar can testify; I think I only read a handful of books last year, and they were mainly clustered around my holidays. So what book should I pick as my choice of the year? Well, obviously, the one that sounds most impressive, and which of course seems to reflect on my huge intellect. Mao is just such a book (even if I haven’t quite finished it yet). But it is good; in fact it is a great read, and that surprised me. So much has been written of Hitler and Stalin, but I knew very little of Mao. He seemed a far more elusive figure of which I knew only minor details; he had a seemingly benign smile, published a red book, and was the sponsor of death on an historic scale. Vague. I did know enough to be astonished that there are still rebels about the globe who term themselves Maoist in this day and age, and I wanted to know more. Mao has certainly filled in the gaps and is relentless in covering its subject. What surprised me, though is how it is such a rattling good read; the writing style is fluid and engaging and drag you in like a novel. It is pretty much a straight chronology of Mao’s life, but in travelling through history it uses one of my favourite techniques (as often used by novelist Paul Auster) in continually referring back to the future and showing how things would in fact turn out. The book is not without its faults however. It is unremittingly one sided, it makes no attempt to portray Mao as anything but a monster pretty much from birth, and it seems that when presented with a choice of showing Mao in a bad light, or portraying him as pure evil, it always takes the latter path. However, if you accept that it is a purely subjective account, albeit one with stacks of research to back it up, then you won’t go far wrong.
  • Film – Ice Age 2. Last year I said I doubted I would get the chance to go the cinema again, and so this category was in effect defunct. Well, in fact, I saw two! Ice Age and Cars! Cars was fine (I am a huge fan of all Pixar’s work) but for me Ice Age had the edge, if for no other reason than because of the great short sketches featuring the squirrel-creature-thing chasing an acorn over the ice. I can’t really say much more than that. Sorry.
  • Sport – Manchester City v Porto. I have vowed several times never to go to any more pre-season friendlies. The last time I promised myself was after the inaugural Thomas Cook trophy match against Barcelona, also the first game played at the City Of Manchester Stadium. So I was never going to go to this year’s instalment of the “trophy”; until my parents said they were going and wanted to take my son. So how could I not go to his first City match? And I was a proud as punch when the teams ran out and my son, decked in his away kit chanted “City City City” with no clear idea of what he was doing. He actually seemed quite interested for the first 20 minutes before his attention started to drift, a good 10 minutes after I had already seen enough, along with many others in the crowd. The match was every bit as poor as expected, but still; a momentous day for me, and a lifetime of pain ahead for him.
  • TV – Jonathan Ross. I could say that something like the wonderful Planet Earth was this years highlight, but for me David Cameron’s appearance on Jonathan Ross show sticks in the memory; not so much for the interview itself (where Cameron came across quite well I thought; still buggered if I’ll vote for him mind) as for the aftermath. I watched the interview, was vaguely amused, and thought nothing more of it. Then, on Sunday morning I watched the paper review on Andrew Marr and discovered not for the first or last time that the press had lost their heads completely and were seemingly appalled by Ross’s crude line of questioning regarding Cameron’s, er, youthful feelings for Margaret Thatcher. Now it is certainly not a pretty image, but I don’t think that is what was being objected to. That the matter was still being discussed a week later on Question Time and This Week is something I found more surprising than perhaps I should. Still, seeing out-of-touch morons getting their knickers in a twist proved once more to be a rich source of amusement, and so scoops the award.
  • Radio – Simon Mayo. I used to hate Simon Mayo. No, hate is too strong a word; I just ignored his Radio 1 show, and turned over whenever he popped up on Saturday evening TV on one of his various unsuccessful attempts at light entertainment. Particularly painful, I remember, were his appearances on Top Of The Pops when he would introduce each artist with a painfully jokey remark; but then I stopped watching TOTP. When he moved to Radio 5 my heart sank, especially when I actually listened to his show and heard dreadful features like a Celebrity Quiz slot (I remember listening to one featuring Hale or Pace of “Hale and Pace”) and asking each guest what they would do if they were King for a day (Jeremy Clarkeson, for example; you can imagine how fun that was to listen to). But gradually he dropped that nonsense and against all odds got down to being a fine presenter and interviewer and quite an engaging character. His chats with film critic Mark Kermode each Friday are a weekly highlight. On The Culture Show Kermode is revered as some sort of movie guru; on Simon Mayo’s show the pairs’ mocking banter reveals Kermode more as an unwitting object of ridicule, as befits anyone who honestly thinks The Exorcist is the best film of all time . I don’t mean to be cruel to Kermode, he is likeable and highly entertaining, but I would never take his opinion on any film seriously. Kermode’s appearances, along with the weekly sports, books and tv panels and Mayo’s intelligent and informed style of interviewing, make his show my favourite on the radio; on my days off I usually try and time it so I am washing the pots when his show is on, and there can surely be no higher praise.
  • Blog – Stumbling & Mumbling. Consistently the blog I look forward to reading most when I check Bloglines (after yours, of course) is Chris Dillow’s Stumbling And Mumbling. Chris usually writes about 2-3 beautifully concise posts a day, a good average somewhere between the crazily prolific Tim Worstall with his 15 daily posts and that idle git The Obscurer who manages sometimes 2 a month if he can be arsed. Chris specialises in writing about economics from a left-wing, pro-free markets perspective; put another way he generally writes common sense reflecting on a recent piece of research, often raising matters no one else bothers with. Sometimes he floats questions as if thinking aloud, unsure himself what the answer is; at other times he is dogmatic, sure of himself and most of all right, as in his numerous attacks on the creed of managerialism; occasionally I don’t have a clue what he is talking about, as in his posts on the stock market; and from time to time the posts seem a valid excuse for a photo of a pretty lady, which is fair enough. Most of all he is informative and entertaining, and who can resist a blog with a post entitled “Monty Panesar And Market Failure” and where not only does the post itself justify the title, but actually makes an interesting point?
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